MILL GREEN NATURE RESERVE
CANNOCK

ANIMAL LIFE

Unlike the trees and flowers, animal wildlife rarely poses to have its photos taken. This page owes its contents to luck rather than to any systematic, ultra-patient, high-tech review of everything that the fortunate visitor might see. Indeed, the vast majority of our animal life, by numbers and by weight, are totally ignored - simply because they are (a) in the soil or in the water and (b) they are very tiny or actually microscopic - despite their huge ecological importance. So we start with what may be easily visible -

Squirrels.
Our squirrels are a mixed blessing! On the one hand, they are attractive little creatures usually (when they can be seen at all) sitting prettily. They are foreign cousins of "Squirrel Nutkin", after all. But therein lies the trouble: they are American grey squirrels which have since 1876 driven all our smaller native British red squirrels out of all the Midlands forests. And they don't eat just nuts. As can be seen in many parts of our Reserve, they feed on the bark of some trees, causing deformity or killing the trees. Not that they are entirely vegetarian: they are known to eat insects, smaller rodents, birds' eggs and nestlings when the need arises. Some folk speak of them as 'tree rats': some scientists name them Sciurus carolinensis.

More squirrels.
Squirrel on tarmac. They build untidy twig-based nests known as 'dreys', easily confused with rook or crow nests. They usually act as individuals, sometimes tolerating a near neighbour, occasionally indulging in high-speed chases for unverifiable reasons. As well as their stereotypical behaviours scampering up trunks and jumping from branch to branch, they spend a lot of time on the woodland floor and occasionally venture abroad onto grassland, rarely onto tarmac.

Swan.
Majestic on the water, beggars when duck-food is on offer, we were reduced to one surviving partner of a pair of 'mute swans' (Cygnus olor) in 2017. But a new wild mate took up residence: the pair produced a brownish cygnet in 2018, maturing to white in 2019. Now we can't tell which is which. Their vegetarian diet is derived from under water and on land, so explorations extend to several parts of the Reserve surrounding the lake.

Canada geese.
Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are pretty much perpetual visitors to Mill Green Nature Reserve. They are an introduced species, having originated where their name suggests. But unlike the grey squirrel introduction, Canada geese have fitted into the natural systems of Britain and Europe (not to mention New Zealand) without causing any serious upsets. Like other geese, they are largely vegetarian both on the water and off, grazing all the areas around the lake and enjoying visitors' contributions.

Mallard ducks.
Much the commonest and most regular duck species on the Reserve is the mallard, Anas platyrhynchos. The colourful male drakes contrast with the more easily camouflaged female ducks. But it is almost characteristic of the species' genetics that colours are quite variable in both cases.

More mallard ducks.
Like the geese, mallard feed both on the water and on land, but mallard supplement their vegetable diet with pretty much anything they can discover in the way of worms, beetles, flies and the like. They commonly do this as a flock but they do also explore, often singly or in pairs, the flowing brooks and the more overgrown areas of the Reserve.

Buzzards in flight.
Of course other birds fly over, but these buzzards (Buteo buteo), for example, cannot be regarded as native to our Nature Reserve: they are not known to nest in the area at all.

Wildlife we don't see.
Mouse Hole. The Reserve does include indications of the presence of unseen animals. A number of 'bat boxes' have been installed, high up on trees in the oak woodland area. Obviously widely distributed, moles find a good diet and leave their characteristic molehills in both the open, grassy areas and the woodland floors.

There are undoubtedly many mice and shrews living in the undergrowth. One bold specimen chose a visible venue right alongside one of the main paths. >
A first selection of bugs.
It was explained above that portraits on this page are largely fortuitous. There is no comprehensive review of bugs and creepy crawlies, but they are vital to the ecosystem and must not be ignored.
1   •   Small tortoiseshell butterfly on a dandelion: Aglais urticae, so named because the caterpillars feed on stinging or 'common' nettles, Urtica dioica.
2   •   Thought to be a ringlet butterfly, Aphantopus hyperantus is rather variable in colour tone and spot pattern.
3   •   Small white butterfly, Pieris rapae / Artogeia rapae, may be unpopular with cabbage growers!
4   •   This is a hover fly of some sort. There is a whole family of "about six thousand species" of them.
5   •   This beetle's colouring makes it fairly easy to track down. Result: Rutpela maculata or 'spotted longhorn', seen here on a wild rose.
6   •   This rather unlikely-looking creature on a thistle flower is the larva of a common-or-garden ladybird, a species of Coccinella.

Bee nest in a tree. < The vast majority of UK bees are housed in hives looked after by amateur and professional bee-keepers. There are a number of different kinds of wild bees, some of which are solitary, some build small communities. It is relatively rare to come across a nest of wild honeybees - which is what these seem to be. They made use of a hollow tree in the poplar area of the Reserve. The pictures were taken in early April, as the workers began their morning sorties in search of flower sources of nectar and pollen.
> This ladybird sitting on a stinging nettle leaf is obviously not one of our British 2-spot natives - it's a foreign invader from Asia, originally imported into Europe to control aphids. It's a 'Harlequin ladybird' (Charmonia axyridis), not to be encouraged!Harlequin ladybird.

A second selection of bugs.
1   •   This little creature is a 'flea beetle' simply by virtue of its being able to jump theatrically. It is not closely related to fleas: indeed, it eats leaf material. Genus and species are not known.
2   •   'Greenbottle' flies are not confined to nature reserves! There are too many types to be able to say what this one may be.
3   •   Similarly, the common house fly is not confined to houses: the familiar one is Musca domestica.
4   •   This is an 'Ocellate Rove' beetle, one of the Omaliinae family. It was found on wind-blown poplar catkins but is may have emerged from the leaf litter.
5   •   Just an ordinary spider, discovered on the leaf litter. There must be countless similar individuals throughout the ecosystem.
6   •   This is probably a large black slug (that's its name), Arion ater.

A big brown slug. < A rather more impressive long brown slug - more colourful in closer view - crossed the woodland path one August morning. It is possibly an Arion rufus. The pound coin (diameter 0.9", 23 mm) gives an impression of size.

> The green shield bug (Palomena prasina) on the right was still active in late October as the oak leaves were succumbing to autumnal loss of colour. They live by sap-sucking on a wide variety of plants but are not known to cause epidemic damage.
A green shield bug.

A more handsome insect appeared on the wild garlic sector of the main path one day in late May, unfortunately as an expired casualty. Research indicates that it was a 'lime hawkmoth', Mimas tiliae. There are no lime trees in the reserve itself. Perhaps this specimen flew in (while it still had its antennae) from some nearby roadside planting. Lime hawkmoth.

Group of red deer.
The largest animal visitors are the red deer (Cervus elaphus), visiting Mill Green from their more frequent location on Cannock Chase itself. Normally, but still very rarely, there may be glimpses through the trees or amongst the waterside rushes. Some walkers were fortunate, one sunny morning in April 2021, to see a (family?) group of one stag and two hinds when they were clearly visible from the main path.
Stag and doe.
Two of the three gracefully cleared the fence, to graze for a while in the flower meadow, though not venturing so far as to sample the abundant cowslips. As it was spring-time, they were not looking their best while casting their winter coats. The stag's antlers were 'in velvet', preparing to reach their full glory by the time of the autumn rut.
Red deer hind in the brook.
A few weeks later a single hind chose a mid-morning drink in the Ridings Brook. She looked a lot tidier with her proper summer coat. Did you notice the ears pointing in two different directions?

Some bird portraits.
Just a few bird portraits. There are geese further up the page, and some of their goslings feature on the Spring page.
Our little lake or 'balancing pond' is not rich in fish. So it's only a rare exploratory grey heron (Ardea cinerea) that graces us with its presence in passing.
And having snapped a common-or-garden robin why not include it?
Jay. On the left, the jay (Garrulus glandarius) is a member of the crow or 'corvid' family of birds, but is more colourful than the crows, ravens, rooks, or jackdaws. It is commonly associated with oak woodland and is known to build up hoards of acorns as its winter food reserve.

On the right, pheasants, Phasianus colchicus, like this male may be common in agricultural areas but are only occasional visitors to our Reserve. Similarly, a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) may rarely be glimpsed here and is unlikely to be nesting in the immediate vicinity.
Pheasant and sparrowhawk.
It is inevitably the case that visitors with greater skill, and/or more patience, and/or sophisticated equiment and/or better luck are able to capture more impressive pictures. Here are some examples kindly contributed by Colin Burlingham.
Bird portraits.
1   •   It is possible, very occasionally, to hear the drumming of a woodpecker in our woods. Hardly ever can the bird be glimpsed in action. It is almost, but evidently not quite, impossible to photograph the great spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopus major.
2   •   The rarity of heron visits is mentioned above. Good luck must have helped to yield this picture.
3   •   Not 'just another duck', this winter visitor was a male teal, Anas crecca.
4   •   Our "N9H" resident mute swan, caught in flighty mood.
5   •   Birds of prey, 'raptors', are pretty rare in industrial areas, but the occasional buzzard (Buteo buteo) may be glimpsed by a fortunate fluke on our Reserve.

Magpie. One of the most noticeable birds on the reserve is the smart magpie, officially the Eurasian magpie. It has the reputation of being super-intelligent, its 'bird-brain' passing some tests that many mammals find impossible.

Pica pica.
Some fishes. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Ridings Brook is a dead watercourse: after all, it drains a largely man-made, predominantly industrial area. And indeed it is almost impossible to see any living creature by gazing over the sides of any of the bridges. But in fact some fish do make a living in our waters, so there must be a supporting ecosystem of crustaceans and larvae, invisible to us.

Even spotting the fishes is very difficult: the most likely site seems to be the upstream side of the main bridge in the centre of the reserve. Photographing them clearly requires specialist equipment because of problems with movement, depth of focus and overcoming reflections from the water surface. Please let us know if you can do better.

Those that we did manage to picture from above are thought to be the plain stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and the more mottled stone loach (Barbatula barbatula).
Some fishes.

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